Much has been written about the Liberal Government’s refusal to allow the City of Toronto to impose road tolls.
After signalling support, Premier Kathleen Wynne put herself and her party’s electoral future ahead of the needs of Canada’s largest city.
It remains one of the most brutal, politically-calculated moves in recent memory.
But in the process of slamming the door on tolls, have the Liberals opened a window for Patrick Brown to become maybe not the champion, but the saviour of Toronto?
The City of Toronto’s budget is the fourth largest in the country. Toronto represents 10% of Canada’s GDP.
Despite paying lip service to the unique needs of Canada’s biggest city, the current government has done little to give Toronto the funding or autonomy it needs to govern itself effectively.
Just this week, Mayor John Tory came out with a list of demands for the province to fund ahead of the upcoming provincial budget. It includes money for housing, rebuilding the crumbling Gardiner Expressway and the downtown relief line. Now, I’m not suggesting the opposition parties start issuing blank cheques, but a dust-up between the popular mayor of Ontario’s biggest city and the politically unpopular provincial government is an electoral opportunity neither should ignore.
So what if Brown stood up and said: “I’m going to be the government that treats Toronto like an adult. No, we’re not going to favour Toronto. But we will fulfil core promises that will make life easier for the people of the city and those across the GTA.”
For example, he could promise to make commuting easier by overhauling Presto, a Metrolinx-imposed system riddled with implementation errors that has angered TTC riders for its inconsistency, and frustrated city officials with increasing costs.
Or he could pledge to upload the Gardiner. The Gardiner is falling apart, in large part because Toronto council kicked the can down the road for so long. Today, the city is faced with the untenable task of rebuilding an entire expressway to the tune of over $3 billion.
Take it over and say you will fix it, freeing up badly-needed cash at City Hall for transit projects, and allowing the PCs to trumpet that they will provide a long-term, sustainable solution to traffic congestion not just for the 416, but also the 905.
The Progressive Conservatives will never, and probably should never, be full-throated urban champions. But you can’t win government without winning at least part of Toronto. And that means demonstrating you understand the needs of the city while balancing the needs of the rest of Ontario.
The city’s residents should also not be written off as a lock for Liberal or NDP votes.
A modern, fiscally-conservative, business-minded candidate and platform will resonate with Toronto residents. The city has demonstrated its support for conservative candidates and fiscal prudence at the municipal level.
Make a few clear, smart commitments to Canada’s largest city. Ease Toronto’s fiscal pressure in a way that will set them up for self-sustainability and success.
In short, solve some of their problems out of the gate, and then leave Toronto to its own devices. In the face of a string of broken promises from the current government, Brown could start to look like Toronto’s best option.
Amanda Galbraith is a principal at Navigator and the former director of communications for Mayor John Tory